Rare is the agency that makes both a creative and commercial impact and even rarer is doing for decades. BBH is and has.
Responsible for making sure that both sides of the table are served at BBH China, is Ed Tsue, Planning director at the agency.
GapJumpers sat down with Ed to get his thoughts on how to prosper in the creative industry.
Q: Ed, first of all how did you get started in advertising and specifically planning?
“I lucked into it. I believe most planners do.
In truth, I started as a client on Unilever’s AXE body spray, when I realized talking with the ad agency was the best part of my job.
So, I switched sides and, luckily, someone identified me as “a planner” before I even knew what planning was. I’m forever grateful.”
Q: You were identified as a planner. How do you spot if someone has good instincts to be a strategist?
Ed Tsue: The most tell-tale sign of a planner-in-the-making: the person who asks awkward, uncomfortable questions in a meeting.
It demonstrates a commitment to truly understanding an issue over preserving social comfort.
Q: What are some of the risks and opportunities facing the advertising industry in 2014 ?
The continued erosion of client courage. Without exception, every breakthrough idea I’ve worked on had a single brave client who went out on a limb— despite naysayers, despite research, despite nagging doubt— and approved a bold, unproven idea.
It’s already so hard for a client to say “yes” to something that’s never been done before— I fear it’ll get harder with the shrinking of budgets and growing reliance on research.
I’m not going to say “technology.” To me, it’s finding a way to apply creativity to mid-sized companies.
If you think about it, advertising (and the media money needed) is a luxury only the most already well-established companies can afford. But it’s the next layer down of companies who can most benefit from a little creativity.
Unfortunately, the existing agency business model makes it extremely unprofitable to help them. Shame.
Q: Rob Campbell wrote about how planning in Asia is “same, but different” compared to Europe/US.
They seem to tackle problems from business p.o.v first, instead of an advertising/branding p.o.v. What is your experience having worked on both sides of the world?
Ed Tsue: It’s more complicated than that. In my experience, Chinese clients tend not to think about “brands” in the philosophical sense. T
hey are thinking about grabbing as much market share as quickly as possible. It’s a race.
Honestly, they don’t need good planning (or even good advertising) to achieve that goal.
Consequently, Chinese clients tend to be much more pragmatic (i.e. how will this ad make us money?) than in Western clients (e.g. how does this ad affect the brand’s “essence?”).
Only recently, as markets have gotten more saturated, has brand planning and brand building become more important and not this weird, superfluous part of the creative process.
Q: In his essay on how to build brands in the digital age, Martin Weigel writes: “There is as much to unlearn as there is to relearn”. What are you unlearning and relearning? Why?
Relearning: target consumer concept
Unlearning: “command style” planning
Ed Tsue: Recently, I’ve been relearning the concept of a “target consumer.” I’ve found it to be an insidious way of thinking about real people.
It assumes that living, breathing humans exist solely as receptacles to eat, use or buy your brand.
It’s not true and, more importantly, it’s not a helpful way of learning how to persuade them.
I’ve been trying to unlearn the “command” style of planning for years— as in, guarding the strategy and dictating where the work should go.
I’ve come to appreciate that the best return on investment when working with creative people is not to be smarter than them, but to be trusted by them.
I’ve been trying to do less “briefing” and more “advising.” More listening so I am more listened to.
Q: Many students feel under prepared for work. Once in a company, it is often sink or swim, because seniors are dealing with their own careers and budgets for training are decreasing.
Should juniors still expect formal training, given the amount of information and opportunities to learn, connect and create on your own?
Ed Tsue: Yes. Juniors should still expect formal training. In fact, they should ask about it explicitly in their interview.
It reveals how much an agency invests in their talent. If the interviewer skirts the question, it’s a red flag.
Q: How do you and your agency train for juniors in the planning division?
- We set aside entire days to do nothing but training. No client meetings, no daily tasks— just a complete dedication to learning.
- Daily training by pulling junior planners aside after meetings and asking if they truly understand everything that happened and why.
At the end of the day, my goal is to render myself obsolete to them— to make junior planners so capable that I can focus on other things.
Q: What should students and graduates, looking to up their chances of breaking into the creative/comms industry, focus on, in terms of skills and topics?
- The latest fad of being “T-Shaped” is garbage. If anything, planners need to be more hash tag-shaped: an expert in many things with an unique slant.
- Make a daily discipline out of consuming massive amounts of unrelated information. Podcasts, newspaper classified, old movies. Good planners make ideas out of the collision of seemingly unrelated things— so you need maximize the likelihood of impact.
- Third, and absolutely most importantly, learn how to write well. If you can’t write precisely and compellingly, your ideas are effectively worthless.
It’s unfair, but it’s true. Writing is thinking.
Q: With the way that tech, design, comms and product development are merging, what would you advise 20 year old Ed, who asked you where to work? Why?
Ed Tsue: I’d offer him a career cliche but for a different reason. I’d tell him to “do whatever he loves,” not because it’s more fun, but because it’s more efficient.
Those who love what they do will always work harder, longer and more intensely at it. Love gives them an inherent advantage.
Simply said, love what you do or lose to someone who does.
Thank you Mr Tsue.
“Where the puck is going” is an interview series by GapJumpers. We ask people we like and find super interesting to share some thoughts. Whenever we find someone willing to answer our questions, we’ll feature them. If you’d like to stay updated on more stories, please follow the collection.